catch me if you can: of presidents and genocide

Those who conceive of justice as an end in itself must be livid. The last several days have seen one appeasement after another of heads of state who may have or have committed heinous crimes against their people. First there was the Kenyan invitation and failure to arrest suspected genocidaire Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Then came the leaked UN report accusing Kagame’s men of committing crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide, in eastern Congo that did not stop regional presidents from attending the increasingly autocratic Kagame’s inauguration after his sham reelection. The damning report even forced the UN Secretary General to fly to Kigali in order to reassure Mr. Kagame and express his regret over the leaking of the report (I wonder if Mr. Kagame reminded Mr. Ki-moon about his peacekeepers’ abysmal failure to protect civilians from sexual violence in eastern Congo).

While appreciating the complexity of the respective cases (which have serious implications for regional security and stability), the recent events related to Messrs Bashir and Kagame may serve to  create a dangerous precedent. The whole point of the ICC was to make heads of state and other people in power think twice before going Pol Pot on their people. This objective will not be served if leaders realize that not even genocide can get in the way of regional and global geopolitical considerations.

In other news, as usual, Texas in Africa has interesting posts on the Congo. Check them out.

al-shabaab may be linked to kampala blasts

UPDATE: The daily nation reports that Somalia’s insurgent group al-Shabab has claimed the bombings that killed dozens in Kampala yesterday. The Atlantic’s Max Fisher offers an interesting analysis of the bombings.

Blasts in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, killed at least 64, the BBC reports. According to the report Ugandan security forces suspect that the bomb attacks may have been carried out by Somali insurgent groups. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the 5000 strong African Union contingent propping up the hapless transitional government of Somalia. The main rebel group in Somalia, the islamist al-Shabab, has previously threatened to attack Uganda in connection with its military presence in Somalia.

These attacks may be the beginning of a new security problem in the wider east African region. Since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 the Somali’s have largely kept their violence within their borders, the only regional effect being the proliferation of light arms and the recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast. But that will change now that internationally-linked groups like al-Shabab are willing to export violence beyond the Somali borders. It might be time for unconventional approaches to the Somalia problem.

Uganda is scheduled to host a high profile African Union summit next week and security must be an even bigger concern for the Ugandan government in light of these attacks.

three cheers to gettleman and his ilk

I am on record as being very critical of Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times bureau chief for eastern Africa. His sensational reporting from the region has oftentimes painted a one dimensional picture of events and portrayed east Africans as irrational and passive beings at the mercy of fate, and their sadistic rulers. That said, Mr. Gettleman and others who share in his bravery remain the only sources of somewhat credible news reports from  crazy places such as Somalia and eastern DR Congo. Listening to him on Fresh Air today reminded me that even though I may not agree with his presentation style, Mr. Gettleman is doing a brave job of reminding the world of the many evils that still define some people’s lived reality.

comparative child mortality stats, and other news

The Continent still lags the rest of the world in the effort to reduce child mortality. Malaria and GI related illnesses (due to unclean water and what not) are still the number one killers of children in Africa.

For more on the child mortality stats see Aidwatch.

In other news, IRIN reports that “Humanitarian officials will look to the Chad government to protect civilians and secure aid operations after the UN Security Council decided on 25 May to withdraw some 3,000 UN peacekeepers from the country’s volatile east.” Yeah right. The rather incompetent and grossly corrupt President Idris Deby of Chad has so far failed in his quest to eliminate the Union of Forces for Resistance (UFR) based in the East of the country and in Darfur, Sudan. In 2008 the rebels managed to stage a massive offensive in the Capital N’Djamena. Mr. Deby barely managed to repel them, possibly with French assistance. Government incapacity in Deby’s Chad, Francois Bozize’s Central African Republic and Joseph Kabila’s Democratic Republic of Congo continues to provide safe havens for rebel groups in the great lakes region. I am beginning to think that allowing countries with extra-territorial ambitions like Rwanda and Uganda to run AU-controlled mandates in segments of such countries might not be such a crazy idea.

foreshadowing post-independence southern Sudan

It is an open secret that Southern Sudan will likely descend into civil war once it secedes from Khartoum. Reports of a mutiny against Southern Sudanese government troops after last week’s election may foreshadow what is to come after Juba achieves full autonomy. Divisions within the South are not new. In 1991 Riek Machar led a rebellion of Nuer officers against the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the end John Garang’ and SPLM/A prevailed after SPLM-Nasir (Machar’s faction) was accused of being stooges of the regime in Khartoum. The same divisions may plague post-independence Southern Sudan – there are already widespread grumbling about Dinka domination of state affairs in Juba. Khartoum is almost likely to play a role in destabilizing the South. The Southern referendum on secession will be held on January 9th 2011.

the drc: the fire continues to consume lives unabated

In the recent past the Niger coup, the return of the ailing Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua from a hospital in Saudi Arabia and the supposed peace deal between Khartoum and the Darfuris have stolen most headlines on the Continent.

But let us not forget that the eastern reaches of the DRC still approximate a war zone, to put it mildly. The ineffectual government in the opposite side of the country in Kinshasa still lacks the capacity to provide any amount of security to its citizens in the east. Makes you wonder why the DRC still survives as a single sovereign state.

The number of actual dead in the bloody civil conflict that begun with Kabila’s match towards Kinshasa in 1998 is sort of debatable – ranging from a low of just over 2 million to a high of 5.4 million, pick your number. Really, does it matter that only 2 million human beings instead of 5 million have so far died in the conflict? At this point should the numbers even matter?.

So let us not lose perspective here. Even by conservative estimates more than 2 million lives have been lost. Millions of children continue to stay out of school (with grave long-term consequences for the security and economy of the region). And those that benefit from the conflict – the generals and arms and mineral smugglers – continue to do so with impunity. There is also no question that international big business is either directly or indirectly bankrolling the conflict (check out the more detailed report from Global Witness here). Hillary Clinton’s visit last year to Goma highlighted the unbearably gruesome existence of those (especially women and children) who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a war zone. Everyone who matters in the country and region know these facts. So the big question is: What will it take to change people’s approach to this conflict? Why isn’t more being done?

so what exactly do they do at the AU? seriously

If the African Union has a PR section then they should all be fired. I am beginning to think that all they do at the AU is convene every year to elect the worst dictator among them as president – Gaddafi is the current president. Well, on top of issuing statements defending the actions of slightly lesser or worse dictators like Zim’s Mugabe and Sudan’s Bashir.

The BBC has this story about the tenuous peace deal between the two Sudans. The whole story has pictures of dusty, out-of-the-past southern Sudan and a clip of some UK foreign office official. No one from either the northern or southern governments appears. The AU is obviously not mentioned. The salvaging of the peace deal is squarely put on the shoulders of the international community. Do the Sudanese care that they may go back to war? Does the AU care? Who knows? From the BBC report it appears that they don’t. Foreigners care more. As always. May be this is merely a matter of the BBC choosing to ignore the key players involved here. Or it could be that the key players don’t care. Or both.

more on cannibalism, this time from the Congo

If you thought that the Economist’s mention of cannibalism in Africa was a rare exception, think again. The Independent, an Irish paper, just ran a story with the headline “We can’t abandon Africa to cannibalism and genocide.” This is in reaction to details out of the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese warlord, at the ICC. The reporter quotes a “highly regarded” Associated Press reporter who wrote that pygmies (is this PC anymore??) in the Congo told UN investigators that Bemba’s men, lacking food supplies, ate children. The same reporter quotes a French doctor working with Medicins Sans Frontiers who said that Bemba’s men in the northwest of the Congo “were routinely eating members of the pygmy tribes in the region.”

The report also has this disturbing error with regard to African geography:

It would seem that few in the West actually care. The biggest “atrocity” story about the rebels in the Western media was when park rangers across the border in Senegal said that rebels had killed and eaten two mountain gorillas in January 2007. (Apparently being a pygmy puts one lower than these primates. But then again I see cat-stuck-in-a-tree headliners – while people are dying elsewhere – all the time).

Senegal does not border the Congo. Infact it is several countries to the West of the continent of Africa. But let’s not let this error distract us from the real story…

The Independent piece (which attempts to advocate for a more interventionist EU policy in Africa) concludes by saying: The only “militarisation” being put forward is the type that would end the eating of children and the other horrific acts of genocides.

I think it is time we had KTN’s Jicho Pevu (Mohammed Ali) or Anderson Cooper or the BBC  guys out into the Congolese forest to show the world that Congolese soldiers are into eating pygmy children. I will believe that cannibalism (outside of ritual – like in Papua New Guinea and other places) exists only when I see it on video or hear it from first hand witnesses.

And to the Independent, you are not helping the Congolese by portraying them as child-eaters. Thanks to you now a bunch of Irish people think that in addition to being infested with AIDS, malaria, civil war and all that stuff, the Continent has marauding bands of pygmy child-eaters. Nice.

the war muddied everyone

News that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president, had funded at least two rebel groups – including Charles Taylor – left me surprised and less optimist about the Continent. It was a stark reminder that politics is a dirty game, especially in the context of a civil war as crazy as Liberia’s (which had among its cast the self-styled General Butt Naked). It is hard to imagine how any prominent Liberian politician from the 80s and 90s could have avoided siding with any of the many warring factions.

Perhaps this comment from the FP website sums it best:

“Of course, it’s not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn’t supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn’t be a local left to run the place.”

It is hard to sympathize with Ms Sirleaf without appearing to be applying double standards given Taylor’s treatment by the wider international community. That said, one thing is clear: Ms Sirleaf is no Foday Sankoh or Charles Taylor.

And speaking of Liberia, Charles Taylor’s defense at his trial in the Hague is turning out to be a  major hilarity. And of course nobody does better reporting on these issues than Wronging Rights.

More instability in Guinea Bissau

After killing their president earlier this year, the military strongmen in Guinea Bissau seem bent on eliminating his surviving allies. The BBC reports that the tiny West African nation’s army killed a number of suspected coup plotters, including Baciro Dabo, a minister and former close ally of the late president Vieira. Mr. Dabo had expressed interest in running for president in elections that are due later this month. The elections will now more than likely not take place.

The latest episode of violence just illustrates how much out of touch the army is with reality. The impoverished West African nation of 1.5 million has seen slow recovery from a disastrous civil war in the late 1990s. With a per capita GDP of $ 213 ($ 600, PPP) it still has a long way to go. It is heavily dependent on farming and fishing, with cashews being the major crop. Political instability and insecurity are only going to make matters worse. And perhaps the saddest part of all this is that no one beyond the Guinean borders cares. ECOWAS will not help, the UN has its gaze fixed on the many conflicts in Central Africa and the AU, under the leadership of Muamar Gaddafi, would rather not be bothered – beyond issuing statements.

the african problem

Sub-Saharan Africa is in dire straights. It is the most sick, hungry, poor and ignorant region of the world. It is a region infested with despots and illiberal democrats who for decades have led their nations to economy ruin and pre-modern tribal divisions and ways of living.

As the world watches one of this region’s promising nations descend into chaos, it is important for us to ask each other hard questions about the African Problem. I say the African Problem problem because it is not by chance that from Senegal to Somalia, Chad to South Africa, there is not much success to talk about. Poverty, disease and ignorance rule supreme.

We need to ask each other hard questions because racially sensitive Westerners (or Easterners for that matter) on whom we depend for most of “our” solutions will not ask us these questions; Is it our culture? Why haven’t we managed to shed the tribe in almost a decade into the 21st century? Why do we tolerate such appalling levels of mediocrity among us? Why don’t we demand more from our leaders? Why don’t we produce real leaders.

Our dictators compare woefully to those from other regions. Pinochet murdered Chileans, enriched himself, but also modernised the economy. Lenin had a weird ideology and some intellect behind his murderous leadership but he modernised Russia. Suharto did not run Indonesia into the ground. And now we turn to Africa: Samuel Doe, “Emperor” Bokasa, Iddi Amin, Obiang, Abacha and all the other Nigerian generals, Mobutu, Mugabe, Charles Taylor…. etc. This is a list of common criminals. Nearly all of them lack (ed) an iota of ideology behind their leadership, nearly all impoverished their people more than they were before, and all are a shame to all Africans. None of them knew what it means to be leader of a people or peoples.

These leaders got obscene amounts of wealth while their country men and women walked around naked, sick, hungry and ignorant.

How hard can it be? Why haven’t we succeeded in having successful socio-cultural and economic institutions that work for us? Does anyone care? Of what use is a million dollars to any African anywhere if Reuters is showing pictures of naked flood victims from Mozambique??? Why are we stuck in pre-modernity?

The many questions aside, the one thing that is clear is that Africa needs to change fast or it will never catch up with the rest of the world. We should not confuse pre-modern subsistence existence with culture. People live in mud houses and roam around with emaciated goats not because they love it but because they can’t afford or do not know any better.